UTRGV founding president to debut Chain of Office, Presidential Medallion, at commencement

Working in the jewelry studio of the fine arts building, Donna Sweigart and student Lino Guiza prepare to pour molten brass into the mold for the medallion.
(UTRGV Photos by Kristela Garza)

By Karen Perez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – DEC. 16, 2015 – A group of jewelry students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Art took on what may be their biggest academic project yet – not to earn an “A,” but to make history. 

Under the leadership of Donna Sweigart, associate professor of art, students from the Intermediate and Advanced jewelry classes contributed to creation of the new university’s Chain of Office and Presidential Medallion.

“It is an honor to be asked and trusted to create such an important symbol for the university,” Sweigart said. “I believe in creating objects that have meaning and will have longevity and that specifically represent the region.”

UTRGV Founding President Guy Bailey will don the chain of office during the inaugural commencement Dec. 19. The tradition dates back to medieval times, with the chain representing the weight of responsibility for the wearer.

The UTRGV Chain of Office is a circlet of Art Deco-inspired links representing the past. It also displays an infrastructure of bridges, aqueducts and gears that symbolize the importance of a solid foundation, water, and movement into the future.

The links in the chain feature many items important in the Valley: butterfly, turbine, satellite, and arches. The counterweight to the medallion is a representation of the native Sabal palm.

The medallion consists of the official UTRGV seal surrounded by an abstract sunburst in a bricks and mortar design. The outer edges of the seal feature cactus flowers placed at the four cardinal points, with the largest flower pointing south.

Sweigart said the project served as a tremendous learning experience for Lino Guiza, Daniel Hernandez, Vilma Flores, Hector Lopez, Ramiro Gonzalez and Oscar Padron, her students involved in the project.

“Very rarely are students asked to do something that has so much impact and attention to detail,” she said. “When they are offered this kind of challenge, they get extremely excited and dedicate themselves to making something really great for all of you, because it’s a communal object.”

Hernandez, a senior studio art major who was taking his first-ever jewelry class, said he was grateful that his design ideas were part of the final concept.

“We are art students, so we wanted to make something that spoke loudly, and not just something that was thrown together,” he said. “To be a part of this history speaks volumes.”

Flores, a double major in studio art and sociology, helped with the design and building of the chain and medallion. She also participated in the design of the UTRGV mace and will contribute to the design of the official class ring come spring.

“We worked so well, bouncing ideas off each other,” Flores said. “I focused more on the functionality and how it can be put together … and (Hernandez) brought in a lot of design and things to add to it.”

Lopez, a biology major with minors in art and chemistry, worked with Sweigart on the 3D modeling. It was a time-consuming task that took one to two months, Lopez said, but will be well worth the effort.

“It’s going to be real nice walking up to get your diploma and actually seeing your work on the most important person in the room,” Lopez said of the university president.

The final steps of the project included printing the pieces of the chain and medallion in wax, so it could be cast in brass, then plated in gold.

Guiza, a studio art major and the team’s designated craftsman, worked night and day to bring the design concepts to life.

“It’s amazing, most students won’t be able to see it or touch the chain of office or medallion, and here I am, building it,” he said.

UTRGV graduating students have the option of adorning their own graduation gowns with a memory stole, a symbol of appreciation bearing the UTRGV colors. The stoles are worn around the neck during the commencement ceremony, and can be presented afterward to a special person – a family member, friend, or faculty member – who has made a difference in their lives.


UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations